The Reign of Henry VII

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Was the reign of Henry VII the financial highpoint of the Tudor era? Henry VII came to the throne in 1485; in many ways his reign appeared vulnerable and his finances poor, however, when he died in 1509 he left his son Henry a sound fiscal legacy. However, was his reign destined to be the financial high point of the Tudor dynasty he founded? The accession of a strong king and the apparent conclusion of civil war meant many had high hopes that Henry VII could restore stability to the country. The situation was indeed improving – growing immunity to the Black Plague had insured steady, if slow, population growth. Henry wanted to maximise the potential economic wealth of the nation, and he did so in many ways including a major reform of the county’s financial administration, support of the gentry class as opposed to super-powerful magnates, and by keeping his nobles in line through his authority and the distribution of crown favours. His success in exploiting his estates and the feudal debts of his nobles is one of the key factors of his economic legacy. However, while many admired his ruthless policies, others were not so complimentary. For many his collection of revenue from feudal sources and from the administration of justice “caused great discontent and earned Henry his reputation as a miser and extortionist”. By the end of his reign, Henry had succeeded in reversing the effects of the War of the Roses, created a solvent financial administration and had managed to increase his annual income by twofold. Henry knew that if he wanted to ensure a filled treasury and general economic stability and prosperity, he did not need to invent new sources of revenue, but instead focus upon receiving his proper due as monarch of the lands. To do this, Henry utilised a ruthless plethora of methods to obtain revenue, with the key methods being his administrative reforms, trade and the maximum acquisition of money through Ordinary and Extraordinary incomes. The steadily declining crown income had to be addressed, and Henry attempted to redress the issue through the shifting of financial administration from the ancient and inefficient system of the Exchequer to the more efficient and effective system that was favoured by his old Yorkist adversaries – the Chamber system. The income of the Crown lands had been cut from £25000 under Richard III to £12000 at the start of Henry VII’s reign due to the inefficiency of the Exchequer, so it is clear that the reforms were desperately needed. Henry’s implementation of this system meant that his treasurers would serve him directly and efficiently. Under Henry VII, the Chamber was overseen by Treasurers Thomas Lovell and John Heron and assisted by men such as Sir Reginald Bray, who were dedicated to improving the efficiency of the royal revenue. The Chamber took over nearly all aspects of financial administration, and its efficient procedures meant that money could be obtained when it was needed. Henry understood that owning land was a key to making money. Naturally, being the reigning monarch, Henry was the biggest landowner in the realm, and he wanted to increase the amount of land he owned to increase his income. He did this in many ways, both through escheats and acts of Attainder and through the 1486 Act of Resumption which returned all land granted away since 1455 to the king, which also served to depower many of the once powerful magnates such as Warwick the Kingmaker, an old enemy of Henry’s. The Duchy of Lancaster set standards for the management of the royal estates, increasing its income from £650 to £6500 due to improved management and administration. Using similar methods, Henry was able to increase royal land revenue from £29000 to £42000 by the end of his reign. The Morton’s Fork policy was also used by Henry to increase his tax income. Customs dues were another major component of the national income. By the end of his reign, customs...
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